What to Know
- A vaccine mega-site for Bronx residents is now open at Yankee Stadium; NJ's 10 p.m. indoor dining curfew lifts Friday as capacity climbs to 35%; the gov also signed a bill expanding outdoor dining
- Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave hospitals one more week to try to finish frontline health worker vaccinations; on Feb. 15, he'll reallocate doses to local gov'ts to focus on inoculating people with comorbidities
- He also appeared open to possibly moving up the date for indoor dining to resume in NYC so that restaurants could benefit from the Valentine's Day weekend rather than just the Sunday holiday itself
Gov. Andrew Cuomo unleashed a flurry of coronavirus-related news on the vaccination and reopening fronts Friday, indicating he'll expand eligibility to people with comorbidities in less than two weeks and consider potentially moving up the reopening of New York City indoor dining by a few days.
The governor said he wanted to give hospitals one more week to encourage frontline health workers who haven't gotten their first shots to do so. After that, he'll reallocate doses for that group 1a to local governments to begin vaccinating people with comorbidities. That pivot in prioritization will start on Feb. 15, he said.
Adults of any age with conditions such as cancer, kidney or liver disease, compromised immune systems, obesity or are pregnant will be eligible at that time, though Cuomo cautioned the list is subject to change. See the full list of underlying conditions that qualify here.
"Comorbidities and age are the major factors with COVID morbidity," Cuomo said. "Hear this one number -- 94 percent of the people who die from COVID are people with comorbidities or other underlying conditions. Ninety-four percent."
Earlier in Cuomo's briefing, he was joined by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, where the two called for the distribution of federal COVID relief funds proportionate to the COVID "ambush" their states have endured for nearly a full year. They also called for the repeal of the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, which Cuomo blasted as double taxation that costs New York $34 million a day.
President Joe Biden has pledged to move forward with his $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill -- one that includes $350 billion in relief for state and local governments. Cuomo and Murphy both said New York and New Jersey, along with Connecticut, deserve a share reflective of the "factually inarguable" higher price the governors say their states paid for COVID compared to others.
"The ambush was due to federal negligence. When you talk about fairness, the federal government should allocate funds in a way that is fair to this crisis," Cuomo said. "When a state gets hit by a hurricane, that state gets relief. It's not that every state gets relief -- the places that paid the highest price for the emergency. Our state, and our region -- paid the highest price for the emergency."
The economic and societal costs continue to mount, even as the tri-states take more leaps in their respective vaccination and recovery efforts.
New York City opened its first vaccine mega-site targeted to residents of one borough -- the Bronx -- at Yankee Stadium on Friday, the latest in a series of community-based site launches but the first that is limited to residents of a single borough. Appointments are required, with the Yankees saying they will staff the stadium's ticket windows for anyone who wants to register in person for an appointment. About 15,000 are expected to be available over the course of the week, with capacity expected to grow over the course of the month. The site is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Long lines formed outside the stadium early Friday, with members of the New York National Guard standing by to help facilitate order. Mayor Bill de Blasio said 13,000 of the first week's 15,000 appointments have already been filled, and said Friday marked "a different kind of opening day.”
“This is about protecting people who need the most protection because the Bronx is one of the places that bore the brunt of this crisis of the coronavirus,” he said at a stadium-side news conference. “The Bronx has suffered.”
Not sure how the process works? Or when you might be able to get an appointment? Check out our handy tri-state vaccine site finder and FAQs here
The Bronx consistently has the highest positivity rate of the five boroughs; its seven-day rolling average of 6.7 percent is 24 percent higher than the rolling average of the borough with the second-highest rate (Brooklyn, 5.4 percent). Both those averages are markedly down from just a month ago, where the post-holiday surge sent the citywide rolling rate soaring above 8 percent, by the mayor's data.
New York state is in the midst of a 28 consecutive-day stretch of declining daily positivity rates. Cuomo reported the lowest seven-day average statewide positivity rate since Dec. 3 on Friday, while the state's daily positivity rate fell to 4.31 percent, the lowest it has been since Nov. 28.
Statewide hospitalizations have dropped below 8,000 after hitting a peak above 9,200 only about a week ago and are now at their lowest level since Jan. 1, Cuomo said -- further evidence to support the governor's contention that the holiday surge is now indeed behind us.
His goal, of course, is not to allow another one -- and as the U.S. heads into Super Bowl weekend, he warned New Yorkers, "We cannot get cocky with COVID."
Super Bowl weekend takes on an even more excited tone in New Jersey this weekend, with Murphy lifting the 10 p.m. indoor service curfew on restaurants effective Friday and raising the limit on indoor dining capacity to 35 percent on the same day. The same capacity increase applies for gyms and casinos as well, while Murphy signed additional legislation to expand outdoor dining on Friday.
The bill allows restaurants, bars and other eateries to expand their services to parking lots, public sidewalks and other outdoor spaces as they look to bolster their economic recoveries. They'll be able to retain liquor permits through Nov. 30, 2022 -- or at whatever time indoor dining returns to full capacity in the state.
"As we weather the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are continually trying to find new and innovative ways to aid our state’s business community while not sacrificing our public health," Murphy said. "This bill will give our restaurants more certainty for the future so they can once again lean into the outdoor expansions we allowed this past summer to help recoup losses and strengthen their businesses and the jobs they support.”
New York City has had similar rules in place for months and Mayor de Blasio has said his wildly popular Open Restaurants program will be a permanent fixture.
Meanwhile, a 10 p.m. indoor service curfew remains in place in New York and won't be lifted anytime soon, Cuomo has said. He has set a date -- Valentine's Day --for the return of indoor dining in the city, though. Dine-in can resume across the five boroughs at that time at 25 percent capacity. The governor's latest ban has been in place since mid-December, as the post-Thanksgiving effect began to materialize with the longest holiday stretch still looming into the new year.
Asked Friday whether he would consider moving the indoor dining reopening up a bit, since Valentine's Day is on a Sunday and some parents may not want to go out "on a school night," Cuomo seemed at least marginally open to the idea.
"We follow the data, we follow the facts -- so let's talk on Monday," Cuomo said. "Let's see what the numbers look like on Monday and then we can talk about Friday on Monday when we see the facts. I get the point."
The incremental developments come as both states climb down from their holiday peaks -- daily case averages and hospitalizations are down by double-digit percentage points over their respective averages the last two weeks, according to New York Times data. Daily deaths are on the decline, too, though since that is the last indicator to see a spike following a cause surge, it's also the last to drop off.
Both governors have scaled up their vaccination programs extensively over the last month -- and say they could administer far more vaccine doses daily if they had the supply. To date, New York state has administered more than 1.5 million first doses, 93 percent of all the ones delivered to state healthcare distribution sites, while New Jersey has administered nearly 750,000 first doses to date.
A 20 percent boost in federal weekly allocation over each of the next few weeks is expected to accelerate administration efforts further, as states seek to inoculate as many, particularly the most vulnerable, as they can at this vulnerable time.
New York City and New Jersey Vaccine Providers
Click on each provider to find more information on scheduling appointments for the COVID-19 Vaccine.
Data: City of New York, State of New Jersey • Nina Lin / NBC
Eligible groups vary slightly in New York and New Jersey. While frontline healthcare workers are top priority in both states, Cuomo has expanded eligibility to populations including restaurant staff and taxi workers, who are not currently eligible in New Jersey. He has ordered statewide hospitals to prioritize frontline health workers, saying the entire healthcare system is at risk if they get sick.
As of Friday, 75 percent of hospital workers statewide had received at least one dose. New York City has initiated vaccinations for 74 percent of hospital workers, with Staten Island reporting the highest percentage (81 percent) of the five boroughs, while Long Island's two counties have each vaccinated 73 percent.
Some have expressed reluctance to get shots. Cuomo asked hospitals Friday to go back to those hesitant workers and try for one more week to complete those vaccinations. After that, he will reallocate most of the group 1a hospital worker vaccine doses to local health departments so they can begin vaccinating people with comorbidities.
New Jersey implemented federal guidance on underlying conditions weeks ago. It allows eligibility to anyone between the ages of 16 and 64 with underlying conditions, among a growing number of other groups. Underlying conditions for younger people include smoking, which has stoked a fair amount of controversy.
With precious first doses still so limited, the demand has far outpaced supply in both New York and New Jersey. In New York City, the mayor has repeatedly -- and most recently formally asked by letter -- the state to allow the city to use some of the hundreds of thousands of reserved second doses for first shots.
As of Friday, the city had fewer than 115,000 first doses left on hand, a decline of roughly 30,000 from the prior day, and more than two and a half times that supply in reserved second dose shots.
Tracking Coronavirus in Tri-State
Those second dose shots will stay reserved unless the CDC changes its recommendations, New York State Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker said. The agency, and top state officials, worry dipping into that second dose stash will create delays in fully inoculating other people.
For his part, de Blasio has said he would rather have more people with some protection via one dose than fewer people with full protection. As of Friday, city-run programs had administered nearly 655,000 first doses, about 85 percent of the total delivered to those facilities to date. They have administered fewer than 175,000 second doses of the 477,000-plus doses city-run programs have gotten.
De Blasio said Friday the city would be doing triple the number of vaccinations a week -- possibly as many as 500,000 -- if it had the guaranteed supply to do it.
A planned mass vaccination site at Citi Field, similar to the one unveiled at Yankee Stadium Friday, was shelved last month amid supply issues. No opening date has been set for that launch yet. The mayor said Friday that site would have launched already had supply not been an issue. It had been scheduled to open on Jan. 25. He hopes the city will have the supply to be able to set a new opening date soon.
De Blasio also hopes the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, for which the company applied for FDA emergency use authorization Thursday, will help eradicate some of the drama surrounding reserved first and second doses.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
That Johnson & Johnson single-dose shot, though, has proved less effective in countries where highly transmissible strains dominate, particularly in South Africa. The South Africa variant, which has additional mutations on top of the ones identified in the more contagious U.K. strain, has raised concerns about the efficacy of current vaccines against it. Moderna is working on a booster shot.
Neither the South African variant nor the highly transmissible Brazilian strain has been identified locally yet. The CDC confirmed the first U.S. cases of those strains only in the last week or so. It believes community spread of those strains, which emerged in their respective countries months ago, has already happened.
Both Cuomo and de Blasio have expressed grave concern that the spread of more contagious variants like those and the U.K. strain will complicate efforts to curb viral spread with herd immunity still many months away. As it is, it could take half a year just to vaccinate the people in New York state who are currently eligible.
More than 600 cases of the three main variants of concern have been detected in 33 U.S. states so far, the vast majority of those being the U.K. strain, according to the CDC. Those include 59 U.K. strain cases in New York state, with Cuomo adding another 15 to the tally Friday, 19 in New Jersey (another eight added Friday) and 17 in Connecticut, though officials believe the actual number of variant cases in their respective states is higher than reported.
Murphy said Friday New Jersey may have moved to increase indoor dining capacity earlier or to a higher degree if not for its concern over the variants.
The CDC has warned the U.K. variant could become the predominant strain in the U.S. by March, potentially leading to another spring spike in cases. Thus far, the South African variant has been detected in two people in South Carolina who don't know each other and have no recent travel history, suggesting community spread. Three cases of the South African variant have also been confirmed in Maryland. There have been two U.S. cases of the Brazilian variant; both are in Minnesota.
Nationally, concerns about the variants have fueled urgency around the already urgent race to reach critical mass on vaccinations. CDC officials say the new strains haven't driven the recent overall U.S. surges in cases, but experts say it's not clear what the case is exactly, given limited study. Fewer than 1 percent of positive U.S. samples are being sequenced to identify the mutations.
Existing vaccines are expected to work on the new strains to varying degrees, at least, but further study is needed. Meanwhile, new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths are down over the last two weeks -- by 30 percent, 24 percent and 5 percent, respectively, according to New York Times data.
The declines mark a merciful improvement over the numbers in January, which overtook December as the deadliest month of the pandemic so far for the U.S.
To date, America has seen a world-high 456,000-plus virus-related deaths since the pandemic's onset and nearly 27 million cases, according to NBC News data.
COVID-19 is the leading cause of death so far in 2021, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It outpaced average daily U.S. fatalities for the second leading cause of death, heart disease, by 47 percent, in January, Kaiser data shows.